A decade ago, Claudia Lawrence vanished without trace. Paul Jeeves, who has followed the case from the outset, spoke to her father, Peter.
Peter Lawrence pauses, dwelling on his daughter Claudia’s disappearance as he has done every day for the past decade.
But it proves to be a moment that provides him with a clarity that he has at least never admitted in public before.
“There was always some doubts privately, but now I have to admit that I may never see Claudia again.
“It is hard to say that, and I have never told anyone that before. But I have to come to terms with it as it may very well be the truth.”
For Mr Lawrence to make such a frank admission is an indication of just how long it is since his daughter disappeared in circumstances that still baffle detectives from North Yorkshire Police 10 years on.
From the outset in the early spring of 2009, family and friends remained adamant that they would never give up hope of a major breakthrough that would see Miss Lawrence, a chef at the University of York who was aged just 35 when she went missing, return safe and well.
A decade on
But a decade on, the question still remains as to how a young, shy woman with a close circle of friends and family living in a cathedral city in one of the safest parts of the country can simply disappear without trace.
And after a decade of anguish that has now begun to manifest itself as actual grief, there is undoubtedly a heavy burden which weighs on Mr Lawrence as he faces up to the prospect that his daughter may have passed away years ago.
“It is the not knowing that is the worst. It would be bad enough if you knew what had happened to someone you love, but the rawness and hurt does not diminish because that is something we have never had,” he says. “There is no resolution. I have said all along that this is what eats you up inside, that is the hardest thing.”
Throughout the investigation conducted by North Yorkshire Police, Mr Lawrence has maintained an unswerving desire to keep his daughter’s disappearance firmly in the public eye.
Read more: DNA tests fail to identify suspect in Claudia Lawrence investigation
Aided by his close friend Martin Dales, who has often acted as his spokesman, Mr Lawrence has conducted hundreds of interviews to stress the point that someone holds a key piece of evidence which would ultimately provide clarity over exactly what has happened to his daughter.
He says: “It is strange, as in some ways it feels like only yesterday that Claudia went missing, but it also feels like an eternity. Once all the physical exertion and adrenalin of the first few weeks and months began to fade, there was time to think and that is sometimes the worst thing that can happen.
“Claudia was 35 when she went missing and she would be 45 now, and a different person as we all change as we get older.
“I feel I have been robbed of getting to know that person, and I have to try to come to terms with that.”
A little over a month after she vanished, detectives confirmed the inquiry was a murder investigation rather than simply a search for a missing person.
The investigation came under increasing scrutiny as police failed to provide any clear insight into what had happened.
Potential leads which emerged in the crucial early stages of the inquiry were not pursued for up to four weeks, prompting concerns that officers were being swamped by the amount of information received – although detectives were adamant they had adequate resources at their disposal.
More than 2,100 statements were taken in the first six months of the investigation, 200 searches conducted and 3,070 lines of inquiry pursued.
Detectives admitted in the early stages that evidence pointed towards Miss Lawrence having a private life described as “mysterious and complex”.
The vague description led to lurid headlines in certain sections of the media about Miss Lawrence’s mysterious love life which was said to have included dalliances with married men.
Mr Lawrence concedes there are elements of his daughter’s private life which he was not aware of, but is adamant that either him or her two best friends, Suzy Cooper and Jen King, would have had an inkling into this secret second life.
He says: “Anyone who knew Claudia would have said she was such a shy person, there is no way she would have walked up to a man and started talking to him, that just wasn’t her.
“And given Suzy, Jen and myself were with her so much between us, I do find the allegations about her private life difficult to understand.”
Nine people have been arrested or interviewed under caution over Miss Lawrence’s disappearance and police submitted files to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 2015 in relation to four men who were detained.
But there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against those arrested and no-one has been brought to justice.
Mr Lawrence admits to being frustrated with the lack of progress in the case – particularly that the CPS has said it cannot prosecute any of those arrested.
But he confirmed the police still keep in touch when they receive any new information.
Mr Lawrence says: “Someone out there knows something, and it is almost certainly someone who lives or lived in York.
“They may not be here in the city any more, but I cannot understand why they have not come forward, whatever their loyalties are, when they can see what this has done to a family.”
Just over two years ago in January 2017, North Yorkshire Police announced the inquiry had moved to a “reactive phase”, and the £1m investigation has since been scaled back unless any major leads are forthcoming.
Mr Lawrence confirmed officers spoke to him last month to inform him that potential leads, however speculative, are still continuing to arise.
He says: “Over the years, the police investigation was probably satisfactory, although there have certainly been ups and downs. They have always said that they will never give up.
“I know that they are still there, and that the investigation is still active and there is still an interest to find out what happened to Claudia.”
Mr Lawrence, who has another daughter, Ali, and is separated from his ex-wife, Joan, admits that he has coped throughout the last 10 years “with the support of close friends and the community”.
He has used his experience to campaign for the introduction of what has become known as Claudia’s Law – which will allow families of people missing for more than 90 days to deal with their legal and financial affairs.
Mr Lawrence received an OBE after he was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list last year for his work in founding the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill.
Previously, the disappearance of a person did not affect the ownership or control of their property and financial affairs.
Claudia’s Law enables a relevant individual to be named as a guardian by a court 90 days after a person has gone missing.
The law received Royal Assent in April 2017 and it is due to come into force in July this year.
Mr Lawrence says: “We’re nearly there after so long. Claudia’s Law is to help lots of families – about 2,500 of them waiting for it.”
He moved to York seven-and-half years ago from his previous home in Slingsby, near the market town of Malton.
The decision was in part to keep a close check on his daughter’s terraced house, which Mr Lawrence has refused to sell, in the Heworth neighbourhood of York, but also to pursue a love of singing that he has nurtured since the age of seven.
He continues to be a member of the York Musical Society, and while he does not worship as regularly as he once did at the city’s Minster, he maintains his faith remains undimmed despite his daughter’s disappearance.
Mr Lawrence has also found comfort singing with the Missing People Choir, who got to the final of the Britain’s Got Talent television show in 2017.
He said: “We just meet to be together and sing new songs.
“A lot of people in the street say ‘Oh, we know how you feel’ but of course they don’t. But the other people in the choir do.”
Now aged 72, Mr Lawrence retired last year from his profession as a solicitor, finishing his career at the law firm, Ware and Kay, which is based in Peasholme Green in York.
Close friends will be there once again to help support him on Monday, the day that will mark a decade since the disappearance of his daughter.
Mr Lawrence says he will spend the day “quietly”, reflecting on the passage of time since his daughter vanished.
He adds: “Of course, I do think about Claudia every day, but you do have to carry on with your life as best as you can.
“There is nothing else you can do.”